In June and July when the days are short and the air has a frosty bite, the Blue Mountains bush erupts in a spectacle of golden yellow sprinkled through the understorey like splashes of sunshine. It’s the aptly-named Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis), brightening our lives as if it knows just when we need it. Soon this is followed by the Sydney Golden Wattle, Acacia longifolia, then Acacia rubida, echinula, decurrens and many more.
Wattles, as Australian Acacias are commonly known, are part of our Aussie identity. We’ve celebrated Wattle Day for well over a century, our national floral emblem is the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), and the national colours of green and gold worn by Australian sports teams are inspired by the colours of wattle. Few Australians don’t recognise the fluffy golden balls of the bush.
Australia might be known as the land of the gum tree, but it could equally be the land of the wattle. Forests and woodlands dominated by Acacia cover 9.8 million hectares of the continent, second only to eucalypt-dominated forests which cover 92 million hectares (source: ABARES 2017), an area which has rapidly dwindled in the past 200 years. However, these figures don’t convey the true importance of wattles in the landscape. Eucalypt forests and woodlands often have wattles as understorey shrubs. In addition, there are species of Acacia that thrive in the arid interior where it’s too dry for eucalypts. Mulga, gidgee, myall, cooba, dead finish, pindan and brigalow, iconic trees and shrubs of the outback, are all Acacias. There are few parts of Australia where wattles don’t grow, and their flowering seasons span all parts of the year. There’s always a wattle in flower somewhere.
And if you’re sneezing it’s almost certainly caused by something else. Wattle’s reputation as a cause of hayfever is undeserved and unfair. Wattles are pollinated by insects and birds; its pollen is relatively large and heavy. It’s not designed to float on the wind so it’s unlikely to irritate your nose, eyes or throat. The hayfever that makes you miserable when wattle is flowering is much more likely to be caused by plants with less noticeable flowers, such as grasses, certain weeds and wind-pollinated trees. If you don’t believe me, read this from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.
Wattle Day is usually celebrated on 1st September, but for many years there were two Wattle Days, with 1st August being the tradition in NSW where earlier-flowering species can be so conspicuous. It wasn’t until 1992 that unity was restored and National Wattle Day was officially declared to be 1st September, a date that also marks the first day of spring. Personally, I’d be happy to celebrate wattle every day of the year.